Sunday, August 01, 2010

167 (2010 #32). How to Be an American Housewife

by Margaret Dilloway

"Write what you know" is common advice to author-wanna-bes, and first-time novelist Margaret Dilloway has taken this advice to heart. Like Shoko Morgan, one of two narrators in How to Be an American Housewife, Dilloway's mother is Japanese and grew up in World War II-era Japan. Shoko and Dilloway's mother both married American servicemen and moved to the United States, both had daughters in their early 40s, and both had an enlarged heart. Dilloway's mother died when Dilloway was 20, and the book is dedicated to her. Dilloway incorporated some of the stories her mother told about her youth into this book.

The first part of the book is narrated by Shoko. She reminisces about her youth (and secrets) in occupied Japan, meeting and marrying her husband Charlie, her subsequent estrangement from her brother Taro, as well as the challenges she faces fitting into American culture, being a military wife, and raising her two children. Shoko longs to go to Japan to see her brother, but impending heart surgery prevents that.

Shoko's daughter, Suiko or Sue, is the narrator in the second part of book. She is divorced after an early marriage, has a 12-year-old daughter, Helena, and is spinning her wheels in a boring job. When Shoko asks her to go to Japan in her place, Sue agrees. Sue and Helena meet their Japanese family, including the at-first-reluctant Taro, and see part of the country. The third part of the book, and the epilogue, have some predictable episodes, but also a life-changing decision by Sue for herself and Helena.

At the beginning of each chapter is an excerpt from a make-believe book-within-the-book, How to Be an American Housewife, with tips for the Japanese wife to fit into American society. Dilloway made up this book, but based it on the real The American Way of Housekeeping, which her father had purchased for her mother, not realizing it was intended for Japanese maids of American servicemen. The excerpts are funny yet poignant.

Dilloway has done a masterful job portraying what life was and is like for Japanese immigrants in mixed marriages, and their biracial children. There are similarities to Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, with its portrayal of mother-daughter relationships, but this book is far easier to read.

I think this book will appeal to many (the beautiful cover is eye-catching) and be popular with book clubs. I'm certainly going to recommend it to mine. It will be published on August 5, 2010.

© Amanda Pape - 2010

[I won this advance reader edition from It will be passed on to someone else to read and hopefully review.]


  1. This one does sound interesting. I'm not one for audio books, so I'll be looking to get this one on my kindle.

  2. Thank you! I appreciate the review.